Like many from my generation, I was raised with religion holding a firm place in my life. Unlike many from my generation, I was raised with the idea that I was to decide how I would believe.
Our family was Catholic. We attended church, and I went through the ritualistic stages. But, my religious indoctrination did not end there. I was introduced to as many different religions as my parents could find. Any religion that was not locally available for me to experience, I was introduced to through the media. My parents made it clear that while they hoped I would believe, how I believed was up to me, and they exposed me to as many religions as possible to aid my decision.
Also, like many from my generation, I turned belief into an abstraction. I accepted the concept, but remained doubtful. I did believe that if he existed, he existed in an infinite number of forms. I believed that he presented himself to people in the way they understood and that all religions, were seeing the same God in their own way. If he made us all different, why would he then expect us all to think the same?
This changed when my father died. I had the luxury of spending his last three days with him. He knew he was dying, so we talked through everything. We wanted no unfinished business in the end.
My father was a geophysicist. Obviously a brilliant one because the government contacted him in the early 1950’s and asked him if he wanted to go to the moon. He could not go because he was a large man, and those early astronauts needed to be small. But, he was enchanted. He followed the space program from its beginning with great intensity. He listened to every radio broadcast, watched every televised event, and read every article he could find. He remained an ardent follower throughout his life.
The night before he died, he began crying. He said he knew he was dying, but did not want to go alone. Shortly thereafter, he suffered a heart attack. The doctors revived him, but advised that if it happened again we should let him go. He never regained consciousness. I stood by his bed and held his hand all night so he would not be alone when he went. The next morning, his pulse began to slow gradually until it finally stopped. He had passed.
When I finally went home, I turned on the news, a ritual I got from my father. The broadcasters were discussing breaking news. The space shuttle had disintegrated. The entire crew had died. And, most astounding, it had happened at the same time my father died. In the end, my father did not go alone. He left this world with the people he admired most.
At that moment I knew. I knew that there was a power greater than me, and I knew that he cared. Mission accomplished, I believe.
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